Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far The 20 Worst Films Of 2015 So Far Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season

Reviews: 'A Single Shot' Starring Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright & Jason Isaacs

Photo of Jessica Kiang By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist September 20, 2013 at 8:30AM

The main narrative surrounding the evolution of David M. Rosenthal’s “A Single Shot” has been about the longer-than-usual casting merry-go-round -- since 2009, a roster of talent as long as your arm has signed up then signed out of the film. However the fear that, as the accepted wisdom goes, there must be something fundamentally wrong with a project that takes this long to put together was somewhat mitigated by the kind of names who kept on stepping up: as worrying as it might be to lose the likes of (pre-breakout) Michael Fassbender, Alessandro Nivola, Forest Whitaker or Juliette Lewis, it doesn’t sting so hard when you get Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright and Jason Isaacs to show up instead -- all actors we admire. Except in this case, accepted wisdom should again be accepted: “A Single Shot” does not add up to anywhere near the sum of its parts, and as individually impressive as any of those parts might be (Rockwell), we are left with a film that if not quite a Frankenstein’s monster, is certainly patchworky.
1
A Single Shot

The main narrative surrounding the evolution of David M. Rosenthal’s “A Single Shot” has been about the longer-than-usual casting merry-go-round -- since 2009, a roster of talent as long as your arm has signed up then signed out of the film. However the fear that, as the accepted wisdom goes, there must be something fundamentally wrong with a project that takes this long to put together was somewhat mitigated by the kind of names who kept on stepping up: as worrying as it might be to lose the likes of (pre-breakout) Michael Fassbender, Alessandro Nivola, Forest Whitaker or Juliette Lewis, it doesn’t sting so hard when you get Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright and Jason Isaacs to show up instead -- all actors we admire. Except in this case, accepted wisdom should again be accepted: “A Single Shot” does not add up to anywhere near the sum of its parts, and as individually impressive as any of those parts might be (Rockwell), we are left with a film that, if not quite a Frankenstein’s monster, is certainly patchworky.

A Single Shot

The issues start at script- and plot-level despite, or possibly because of Matthew F. Jones, author of the bestselling and seemingly much-loved novel, himself being the screenwriter. What possibly works well as literature, in which smaller characters can be colored in and the psychologies of our principals more thoroughly evoked, is here unconvincingly condensed, and so, many of our characters’ decisions come off as bafflingly illogical. It’s perhaps as a result of having someone so familiar with the source material adapting it that it feels like Jones has forgotten that we don’t know anything about these people except what we see after the fade in. This becomes more egregious as the film progresses toward an ending that, with careful treatment and stylish prose writing, we’re prepared to believe could maybe work as a kind of Gothic take on Greek tragedy. But again, without the benefit of understanding the characters, this resolution can only come after a series of contrivances: a whole slew of otherwise unprompted things have to happen solely to bring about the supposed poetic irony of the finale.

John Moon (who evokes in his name a much, much better Sam Rockwell vehicle) is an outdoorsman from a West Virginia farming family whose wife has left him, taking their young son with her, citing his inability to keep a steady "proper" (i.e. indoor) job. One early morning he goes hunting -- poaching -- and accidentally shoots and kills a young girl, who he then discovers to have a strong box full of money in her possession. Not without moral qualm, he does his best to cover up his misdeed, then takes the money. He is, we feel, a good man, but one with perhaps too many strikes against him for him to be able to do the wholly right thing here, and as for the money, it won’t do her any good, right? Up to this early point the film has been simple and strong, a lot due to it being solely focussed on the ever-watchable Rockwell, whose performance here is impressive in its physicality: he looks and feels the part of the practised hunter, whether tracking an animal through the cold morning woods or hacking the hindquarters off a deer carcass. The photography in the low, grey lighting sets the bleak mood well, and we seem on course for something small and existential, a morality play nestled in the chilly embrace of a "Winter’s Bone" landscape. Unfortunately, then the plot starts.

A Single Shot

The girl had a boyfriend (an oddly-cast Jason Isaacs, perhaps simply nearest the chair when the music stopped?); the boyfriend was in prison with a local thug (Joe Anderson); the thug occasionally bones a waitress (Amy Sloan) who works at the same diner as Moon’s wife Jess (Kelly Reilly, again a strange casting choice). Moon’s best pal (Jeffrey Wright) blows back to town in a cloud of alcohol and telegraphed dubious intentions, and recommends oleaginous local lawyer (William H. Macy) to Moon to handle his pending divorce. Everyone turns out not to be what they seemed, though to be honest we weren’t too clear what they seemed to be in the first place. Perhaps the shortest straw is drawn by the usually terrific Macy who here doesn’t have a character so much as a list of tics and quirks: bad toupee, fake ingratiating smile, loud check jacket, withered hand. Then late in the game another couple of characters are introduced -- the goodhearted farmer who bought Moon’s father’s farm and now offers him a job on it, and the spunky farmer’s daughter (Ophelia Lovibond) -- just around the same time that an old mystery that had been referrred to a couple of times is suddenly found to be key to the question we weren’t aware we should be asking: where did the money come from?

There are a hundred strands here, any number of which could have been snipped out to give the others room to breathe (Macy’s lawyer character, for example, is completely unnecessary). With more time for the characters to grow and fill out, perhaps we wouldn’t have needed quite such an intrusive “here’s what you should be feeling right now” score? (Note: when one character is hacking off pieces of another while shoving a gun into his mouth, we really don’t need hysterical, squawking strings to tell us that the situation is a perilous one). We are given to understand that Rosenthal was excited at the film’s potential to meld art and genre, but the resultant film has too little truth to its characters, too little to say about the world to be art, and too little narrative coherence to be satisfying genre fare either. "A Single Shot" features some interesting, atmospheric scene-setting and another standout performance from Sam Rockwell -- for us, sadly, those were the only parts of the patchwork we could cherish. [C+]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Berlin Film Festival.

This article is related to: A Single Shot, Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Wright, Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates